Cox says anti-vax ‘propaganda’ from right-wing media is ‘killing people’

Utah Department of Health reports four more deaths and 693 new cases of COVID-19.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dr. Diane Gilles takes a handful of syringes filled with the Moderna vaccine to be given to people on Thursday, March 18, 2021, as the Utah Film Studios loans its space to the Summit County Health Department as a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination station.

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Gov. Spencer Cox said the anti-vaccination “propaganda” coming from right-wing media is likely harming efforts to get more Utahns vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I think it’s harmful. It’s certainly not helpful,” Cox said Thursday, during his monthly KUED news conference.

Cox noted that Utah’s vaccination rate has started to tick up recently, but that’s been accompanied by a sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases.

The Utah Department of Health reported Thursday that another 693 Utahns had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and four more deaths were attributed to the disease. The seven-day rolling average of cases — a statistic experts use to follow trends in case counts — rose to 519 per day, the first time since March 14 the average has gone above 500.

The governor said he hasn’t seen any hard data about vaccine hesitancy. But he said a recent push by Fox News, Newsmax and other right-wing media against COVID-19 vaccinations is reckless.

Recently, Newsmax host Rob Schmitt said vaccines go “against nature” and that some diseases are “supposed to wipe out a certain number of people.” The Biden administration’s plan for vaccine outreach, possibly going door to door in some areas of the country with lower vaccination rates, has also sparked outrage on the right, especially among Fox News hosts who have railed against the idea.

“We have these talking heads who have gotten the vaccine and are telling other people not to get it. That kind of stuff is dangerous, it’s damaging, and it’s killing people,” Cox said.

Recent polling shows a deep political divide over whether Americans will get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Overall, just 20% of Americans say they would not get vaccinated, but among Republicans only, that number jumps to more than a third.

That makes little sense to Cox, who heaped praise on former President Donald Trump for Operation Warp Speed, which he called “one of the greatest advancements in medicine in human history.”

“Republicans and President Trump should be taking credit for that. But, I don’t think we can take credit for getting the vaccine and then tell people that there’s something wrong with it. That just doesn’t make sense to me,” Cox said.

Earlier this week, Sen. Mitt Romney called conservatives and Republicans politicizing the vaccine “moronic.” His comments came after attendees at the Conservative Action Political Conference cheered the Biden administration falling short of the goal to get 70% of U.S. adults one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by July 4.

Nearly all of the deaths from COVID-19 in the United States over the past month were people who had not been vaccinated against the disease. Cox said the same trend is happening in Utah, which should give people even more incentive to get jabbed.

“We know why people are getting sick. The disease is far worse than the vaccine. I can guarantee that,” Cox said.

Thursday’s UDOH report brought the number of cases in the past three days to just short of 2,000 — a total of 1,994 (603 on Tuesday and 698 on Wednesday).

Vaccine doses administered in past three days/total doses administered • 5,244 / 2,931,716.

Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,441,385.

Cases reported in past day • 693.

Deaths reported in past day • Four: a Salt Lake County man between the ages of 45 and 64, a Salt Lake County woman 85-plus, a Utah County man 65-84, and a Weber County man 65-84.

Tests reported in past day • 5,053 people were tested for the first time. A total of 8,590 people were tested.

Hospitalizations reported in the past day • 258. That’s 17 more than on Wednesday. Of those currently hospitalized, 101 are in intensive care units, the same as on Wednesday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 13.7%. That’s slightly higher than the seven-day average of 13.4%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Thursday’s rate was 8.1%, lower than the seven-day average of 9.0%.

[Read more: Utah is changing how it measures the rate of positive COVID-19 tests. Here’s what that means.]

Totals to date • 421,950 cases; 2,410 deaths; 17,947 hospitalizations; 2,847,690 people tested.